The Buffalo Bandits haven't gone into many playoff games as an underdog.
But that will be the case at 8:05 tonight (Radio 1520 AM) when they meet the top-seeded Rochester Knighthawks at Blue Cross Arena in a National Lacrosse League semifinal.
"They're the first-place team in the league and the game is in their building," said NLL career scoring leader and original Bandit John Tavares. "So all the pressure is on them to win."
The Knighthawks (15-2) enter the game on a 13-game winning streak, the second-longest in the 21-year history of the league. Two of those victories came against the Bandits (11-6) two weekends ago, by scores of 14-10 at HSBC Arena and 14-8 at Blue Cross Arena.
Only once before during their 16-year history have the Bandits gone 0-3 against one foe during a season -- in 1998 against the Philadelphia Wings.
"That's [the Knighthawks are] what we wanted," said Bandits defenseman Clay Hill. "If we keep the momentum going in, we'll be all right. We don't want to settle for anything less than a championship."
That momentum was created last Sunday when the Bandits blanked Minnesota during the second half of their 14-8 quarterfinal triumph at HSBC Arena. The Bandits surrendered the first four goals of that game, in just over six minutes, but were able to overcome.
It was the first time Buffalo rallied to win after falling behind, 4-0, since Jan. 9, 1993 at Civic Arena against the Pittsburgh Bulls, when it scored the final 11 goals in a 17-10 triumph. That was consecutive victory No. 9 in a streak that would reach 22. And that's the only winning streak longer than one the Knighthawks now ride.
"I think it's good [to play Rochester again quickly] because it's still fresh in our minds," Bandits coach Darris Kilgour said. "Our guys are ready to go and they want [another chance at] them."
The Knighthawks, who finished four games ahead of the second-place Bandits in the East Division, advanced with a 10-6 victory over the Toronto Rock in the quarterfinals. That was the fifth playoff game in NLL history which matched teams separated in the final standing by four games or more, and the squad with the better record has won them all.
"Rochester is a great team," said Bandits forward Jason Crosbie. "We have to play 60 minutes, all hard work, no mental errors. They're very explosive. We have to somehow solve them. It's one game and anything can happen."
The Knighthawks have won their last 12 games at Blue Cross Arena and the Bandits have a poor track record there. But the Bandits were also the last visiting team to walk out with a victory, a 14-13 overtime decision on March 18, 2006.
"Any coach, given the chance to play at home or away, you're gonna choose home," said Knighthawks coach Ed Comeau. "We feed off the energy there. But once the game starts it's anybody's game. Buffalo is coming to try to win so we've got to be ready for them."
Buffalo is 4-12 at Rochester during the regular season and the teams have split two playoff encounters in Blue Cross Arena.
"They're our archrival and it seems like every championship leads through Rochester," said Buffalo defenseman Kyle Couling. "Losing two tough ones to them, we want some retribution. We want to prove ourselves against them again."
In a similar situation three years ago in the playoffs, the Bandits pulled an upset in the semifinals. Buffalo went 8-8 and finished third in the East that season, then faced the first-place Toronto Rock (10-6) in the Air Canada Centre. But the Bandits rolled to a 19-10 victory, earning a spot in the Champion's Cup final at Calgary.
Kilgour again expects to start backup goaltender Mike Thompson, who lost both regular season games against the Knighthawks -- surrendering 24 goals with 66 saves.
"They're something else but I'm hungry for another chance at them," said Thompson.